What Is Thanksgiving All About?

By | November 21, 2016

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. This is not only a family event but friends can also come together for a special meal. The ingredients usually consists of turkey with stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables, followed by pumpkin pie. So that is the meal but what is Thanksgiving all about?

What Is Thanksgiving All About

Thanksgiving is a special day of the year where Americans give thanks to what they have. They share this time with friends and families and share a good meal together.

Thanksgiving is also observed by Canadians on the second Monday in October. In Liberia it is celebrated on the first Thursday in November, and on Norfolk Island in Australia it is held on the last Wednesday in November.

For me as a genealogist I like to attend any moment such as this with my family. I am grateful not only for them but also family that have preceded me. If it wasn’t for them then there wouldn’t be me. And obviously if it wasn’t for your ancestors there wouldn’t be you.

Special Dates:

Thanksgiving Day (Canada) – 2nd Monday of October

Thanksgiving Day (Liberia) – 1st Thursday of November

Thanksgiving Day (Australia – Norfolk Island) – Last Wednesday of November

Blackout Wednesday (US) – Day before Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day (US/Puerto Rico) – 4th Thursday of November

Black Friday (US) – Day after Thanksgiving Day

American Indian Heritage Day (US) – Day after Thanksgiving Day

Credit:   The History Channel

What Happens on Thanksgiving Day?

The homeless and poor are also thought of during this time. There are annual food drives held which collect non-perishable food. Volunteers are also given Thanksgiving meals to hundreds of people, thanks to The Salvation Army.

Parades, football matches and shopping!

Not only do people enjoy a meal with the ones that they love but also there are Thanksgiving parades held all over the United States. These sometimes occur on the day itself or prior to it. These parades also mark the opening of the Christmas shopping season. During the parades you see many colorful floats, large balloons of cartoon characters, marching bands and also TV personalities will also make an appearance. These parades are also televised.


As many people will commute during these holidays a four-day weekend is usually observed.

Most businesses will also be closed during this day, as well as schools and government buildings. Public transport will run but however a less regular service is offered. As well as the general public most businesses and governments will allow their staff to have a four-day weekend as well.

Due to the high number of people travelling during this time the roads can be quite congestive. The day before Thanksgiving Day, dubbed Blackout Wednesday, is also busy as many bars and clubs are open to travellers who are getting together with family and old acquaintances. The parades and football games also put a burden onto the roads.

The day after Thanksgiving can also be busy as well as there are many shops open on this day It is commonly referred to as Black Friday.

Turkey Pardoning

The National Turkey Federation since 1947 would present the president with one live Turkey and two dressed ones. It was not until John F Kennedy that a Turkey was spared as he did not want to eat it. It has since been the custom to pardon a turkey from being killed and eaten on Thanksgiving.

Ronald Reagan was the first President to grant a presidential pardon. The turkey ended up at a petting zoo.

The Origin of Thanksgiving

So I have discussed what happens during the holidays that is known as Thanksgiving. But when was the first Thanksgiving and why did it begin?

Thanksgiving has been recognised as an annual holiday since 1863. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed during the Civil War a national day, and to be held on the final Thursday of November.


Thanksgiving is actually more than 400 years old!

You maybe surprised though that its origins are much further back than this. In fact it is believed that the very first Thanksgiving Day was held in El Paso, Texas in 1598. A similar event event was held in the Virginia Colony in 1619.

A couple of years later in 1621 Pilgrims held a harvest celebration. These Pilgrims were early European settlers who came to North America and settled at Plymouth. This harvest was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims, and was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

==> Historical Maps of North America and Europe <==

It is considered to be the origins of the modern day Thanksgiving. However, this was not their first true thanksgiving as it was not until 1623 when they thanked for the rains that ended the drought.

Rather than a meal or a feast, thanks were given during a church service. But this was the start of the Thanksgiving that we all know of today.

More than one Thanksgiving a year?!

Later during the 1600s thanksgiving became more common and so started to be annual events. But over the United States different days we observed by different communities. And some places may have more than one thanksgivings during the year.

George Washington

During the time of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83)  Congress appointed maybe more than one day to celebrate thanksgiving. They also noted which dates States should observe this during the year.

It was not until the first president, George Washington, in 1789 proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day.

The modern traditions of Thanksgiving that we all know today such as feasts and football matches comes from the latter half of the 19th Century. Church services were still being held followed by feasts. Football matches were also being played by high school rivals.

Finally a date is set for Thanksgiving!

Typically though Thanksgiving was held on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939 there were five Thursdays in November. So it was declared that Thanksgiving would take place on the last but one Thursday.

It was believed that President Franklin D Roosevelt declared this date as to give merchants more time to sell their goods in the lead up to Christmas. This was during a time known as The Great Depression in the States where many people lost their businesses. So this longer period would them increase the profits and help bring the country out of the depression.

The Senate in December 1941 made the amendment to when Thanksgiving should be observed. However, some states eseveral years after this continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last and not the fourth Thursday. Texas even did so as late as 1956.

Controversy of Thanksgiving

The festive spirit of Thanksgiving is unfortunately not shared by everyone though. Since 1970 a group of Native Americans, together with their supporters, have held a protest and demand a National Day of Mourning. This is conducted at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is always performed on Thanksgiving Day.

Controversy pf Thanksgiving Day

Native Americans celebrate their heritage on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. They celebrate American Indian Heritage Day and honor the contributions that Native Americans have made to the United States. Their culture and heritage is also recognised during this time.

It is a protest as it is felt by some that Americans have seem to have forgotten the lives and cultures that were lost during the time of the early settlers. It is felt that the bloodied past has been glossed over. It should be forgotten and we should all remember what once happened and be thankful for everyone and everything that has made us who we’re are today.

==> Get Help With Your Native American Genealogy Research <==

Final Thoughts

Even though controversy may surround Thanksgiving it is still a special time for Americans to spend time together and give thanks. We are all grateful for the people and opportunities that have come into our lives. From our parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, to our neighbors and friends. They have all made us who we are today. We are grateful to them.

But as I have said we are not only grateful for the people that have come into our lives but also the opportunities. Whether it is a new job that has come our way or it may even be a new outlook on life. It is important that we seize the opportunities that come our way.

I cherish moments like this where I can spend time with my family and friends. They don’t come around as often as we would like them to. Times like these I can spend asking relatives questions about my ancestors and learn more about my heritage. It’s a great opportunity as it were to do more of our genealogy research.

We all want to know about our ancestry and gatherings like this can help us learn more about our roots. So when you next meet up with your relatives during Thansgiving or any other holiday for that matter give thanks to the people around you. And also ask about your ancestry. You maybe surprised as to what you may hear.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this article regarding what is Thanksgiving all about. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

16 thoughts on “What Is Thanksgiving All About?

  1. Darcy

    Wow, such a detailed and wonderful article to read!!!
    I love all of your photos as well. Very beautiful. I am a Canadian Girl and Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year next to Christmas. I will be sharing this article with others. Keep up the great work!

    1. Owain Post author

      It’s amazing just how far back this special event goes back. I was just not aware until I started to research about Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing Darcy.

  2. Ronnie Jordan

    Very informative because there were things you mentioned in the article I wasn’t even aware of. I had no idea of how many times the dates were rearranged. But it is a very nice day to spend with family and all give thanks to God for making all things so for all involved. Thanks for this article.

    1. Owain Post author

      We should all be grateful during this time. Family is everything and without them we wouldn’t be around. I am so grateful to them and also my ancestors.

  3. Dinh

    I love Thanksgiving!
    This holiday has it all for me. Great food, great company and there’s always football to watch!

    I will take your suggestion and ask about family history. Having a few generations in one place is a great way to get chatting about ancestors and family history.

    It’s a shame that there was controversy of Thanksgiving. Are the Native Americans still protesting about it?

    1. Owain Post author

      It is certainly a great opportunity to catch up with older relatives and ask about our ancestors. We can learned quite a lot during these times.

      I believe that they are still protesting and will do so until a National Day of Mourning is granted and observed.

  4. Everlen

    Hi Owain,

    This was a fantastic read. I like that you shed light not only on Thanksgiving but also on other perspectives surrounding the celebration. This was my first time of reading about the Native American take.

    I will be forwarding your article to friends and family to read. Thanks for taking time to put this together.

    Best wishes,

    1. Owain Post author

      I always like origin stories like this. And I always surprise myself when I research these as sometimes they bring up facts that I didn’t even know about.

      Family occasions like these are very special for me as I can spend time with the ones that I love and also learn from them as well. It’s a genealogist goldmine!

  5. Buny

    Wow, I’m neither American nor Canadian but with your article it made me love Thanksgiving.I wish there was a special day for thanksgiving too in my culture.

    Thanks for the enlightenment.

    1. Owain Post author

      Even though there may not be a family event like this you may have Mothers Day and Father’s Day. These are days celebrated all over the world. They can be occasions to share with the whole family.

  6. Kevin Bulmer

    Hi Owain,

    This is a terrific article. As usual with your posts, I learned a LOT. I admit I didn’t realize Thanksgiving was observed in different places around the world. I suppose I figured it was an American / Canadian thing.

    The origins of it, including the controversy that still surrounds it for some, are interesting to read. As with so many things, I suppose Thanksgiving and it’s meaning and observations have morphed and changed with the times. How ironic that we go from a day to be together and give thanks directly into an orgy of consumerism (Black Friday) that we’ve created. Interesting.

    Wishing you all the best!


    1. Owain Post author

      You are so right Kevin. One day we are with our family and then the next we are out shopping until we drop. It’s important though to cherish these moments together. We all must be aware of what these days actually mean, before all the consumerism takes over.

  7. greg

    I didn’t know the history as I am not American. But this post provides lots of information. I learnt quite a lot. In Australia Thanksgiving is not observed at a national level, there is no holiday. We have our own holidays where we celebrate with family and friends.

    Thanks for the information,

    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks for your comment Greg. I am glad that you found it to be interesting. I like to delve into the origins of traditions, particularly holidays such as this one.

      Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Australia it seems though that Black Friday and Cyber Monday is. Looks like that’s the way the world is going these. Commercial driven.

  8. Mia Lambert

    Hi Owain,
    Even though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in my country, I’ve heard a lot about it. I welcome the idea of being thankful (grateful) and more focused on the family and the community and helping those in need. I don’t understand the turkey genocide part though.

    Also, this explains a lot about Black Friday. I see it everywhere on the Internet, but I didn’t have a clue what it was all about. But why is it called that way? Because of American Indian Heritage day?

    1. Owain Post author

      Even though we don’t have the same holidays all over the world I feel that we should know about what occurs all over the planet. After all we are more connected now more than ever.

      The common explanation for it to be called Black Friday is that retailers finally turn a profit. So they are getting out of the red.


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